Sunday 23 June 2019

Benny, Cantor, Crosby and Lotions-of-Love Winchell

Jack Benny wins. Walter Winchell wins. Paramount wins. And, ultimately, newspaper readers win, too.

Gossip columnists, like the rest of us, have to take time off work. One of the favourite ways to fill space during the respite was to have stars as fill-in columnists. I suspect in most cases, the stars had their writers pounding out inches at the typewriter.

Walter Winchell’s column of July 22, 1938 has Jack Benny’s byline. I imagine part of the deal was Benny got to plug his coming Paramount picture in return for gossip and gag copy. Jack (or Bill Morrow or Ed Beloin) tosses in references to Eddie Cantor, Fred Allen, Bing Crosby (including his horses) and his four-year-old daughter speaking like the Kingfish, which strikes me as highly improbable.

Jack Benny Buys a Clock, Gets a Grandfather, Free walk home.
(Today's guest columnist for Walter Winchell is Jack Benny, radio-screen comedian).
Dear Walter:
I received your letter (with three cents postage due) asking me to write a column for you while you are on your vacation. That’s fine. You’re on your vacation and I’m slaving and sweating in front of a hot camera, so why should I bother substituting for you? Why should I put myself out? Why should I take these few precious moments of freedom between scenes and use them in grinding out words to fill your space? You want to know why? Because I’m a ham. I like to see my name in print, even if it’s on a police blotter. So without further ado, I bring you your Hollywood correspondent—Jack Benny!
Well, to begin with, Walter, you asked me to give you some of the latest dope about Hollywood and the movie colony, as I rub elbows with all the important people here. Now I ask you, how much information can you get from an elbow?
The hottest thing in town right now is the Hollywood Park racetrack. It’s a beautiful place. You can get there by taxicab in 15 minutes, and it only takes you three hours to walk home.
It is a very modern track and the last word in progress. Everything there is streamlined, except the nags I bet on. I put $2 on one the other day, and as he was coming into the stretch he lost his wooden leg.
And everything is so formal there. The jockeys work in top hat, white tie, and the horses work in tails. They'll do anything out here, Walter. They even tried to get the Supreme Court for judges.
Bing Crosby has been very fortunate lately, as all of his horses have been winning. He happens to have the next dressing room to mine at Paramount, so I hid a dictaphone in his room to try and get some information. I played the record back today. All I found out was, his tailor's name is Smith, his youngest child is teething, and I’m a heel.
Can you Imagine that, Walter? And after all the things I’ve done for Crosby . . . What’s that? What have I done for Crosby? Well, for one thing, Walter, I have never played "Sweet Leilani" on my violin. Some gratitude.
Now let’s see, what else is going on in Hollywood? . . . Oh, yes. N. B. C. is building a new studio on Vine St. C. B. S. has already opened theirs, and the E. C. A. S. (Eddie Cantor's Antique Shop) is doing very well. I went in there the other day to pick up an antique chair and got paint all over my hands. Eddie had the nerve to tell me that it's been drying since the 15th century. I hope my hand has better luck.
Incidentally, Cantor just sailed for Europe, and the day before he left Hollywood he sold me a grandfather's clock, which financed his trip. I didn't mind that so much, but when I got home and opened the clock, his grandfather was in it.
By the way, Walter, you might be interested to know that Mary and I will be moving into our new home soon. It is really beautiful and located directly across the street from the lot you bought on Roxbury Drive. If you contemplate building on your property, I hope you will put in an extra bathroom, as the architect forgot ours.
Mary and I had quite a lot to do with the building of our new home. I’m not much of a carpenter myself, but Mary took up brick-laying at Vassar. Believe me, it came in very handy.
We had a hard time deciding on the type of architecture. Mary wanted our home to be French Colonial and I held out for Early Spanish. However, we finally compromised. The house is going to be French Colonial, but early every morning I’m going to have a Spanish omelette for breakfast.
And, Walter, I wish you could see our swimming pool. It's really lovely. But I do think it’s a little too large, as last night we had a typhoon in it. But even then I didn’t realise how enormous our pool was until I strolled over there this morning and found our backyard filled with beachcombers. Something will have to be done about that.
But the house itself is furnished in excellent taste. We have a gorgeous living-room overlooking a group of bill-collectors, a lovely dining room, and a beautiful den with a lion in it.
Well, so much for my house. Now let's see, what else is there to talk about?
DING-A-LING-LING! Oh, pardon me, Walter, there’s the telephone. (CLICK) HELLO . . . YES . . . OKAY, I’LL BE RIGHT OVER, GOODBY. (CLICK.)
Excuse me, Walter, that was the assistant director calling me on the set.
You know I’m in the middle of "Artists and Models Abroad," the new Paramount picture I’m making with Joan Bennett. Joan is a wonderful girl to work with. She’s so sweet and understanding. No matter how many times I forget my lines, she never says a word. She just groans. Yesterday I played a love scene with her, and I was so thrilled that I forgot to kiss her. I guess she was thrilled, too, as she forgot to remind me.
Our director, Mitch Leisen—who is one of the best in the business—runs a Men’s Shop on the side. So far in the picture I have a large wardrobe but a very small part. One of my checks bounced the other day, and he cut me out or three scenes. And is he commercial! He says he won't let me marry Joan Bennett at the end of the picture unless I buy a camel’s hair coat.
So you can see, Walter, what I’m up against. And that isn't all. The cameraman also sells insurance. And since I have all the insurance I need, you can imagine how I'm going to photograph.
But what worries me most about my career in the cinema is Mister Zukor, the head of the studio. I think he has lumbago, as he hasn't bent over to pick up my option.
But I’ll be through pretty soon, Walter, and go on my vacation. I haven’t decided just where to go, but I would like some place unusual this year . . . some tropical island nestled in the blue Pacific, with palm trees swaying in the breeze. So after looking up the boat fares to Tahiti, I’ve about decided on Catalina Island. I know it's only a short way from Hollywood, but I’m going on the far side of the island where, on a clear day, you can see Honolulu in the newsreel. I know Honolulu is very romantic with its beautiful native girls in their grass skirts, but I like women I can smoke around.
If I have time, I'll also take a trip East for a short visit. And inasmuch as I’m on a very strict diet, I’ll probably stay at the home of my old friend, Fred Allen. He has a cook who even knows how to make hash out of hash. In fact, Allen is so tight that—(KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!) ALL RIGHT, ALL RIGHT, I’M COMING!
I'm sorry, Walter, but I've got to run along now, as they're ready for me on the set.
Oh, by the way, before I go I must tell you about my little daughter, Joanie, aged four. I told her this morning I was going to write a column for Walter Winchell. And what do you think she said? You'll never guess. She said, "Daddy, are you going to get paid for writing this column?" I said. "No, darling." And she said. "Daddy, you-all sho am slippin’!" (You see, Walter, we have a colored nurse.)
Well, that’s about all. Have a good time, Walter. Relax, take it easy, and don’t do anything that will upset you. In other words, don’t read this column.
Best wishes always. JACK BENNY.
P. S. I just saw your picture on the front cover of Time Magazine. Gee, you're pretty!

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